Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Inspiration for the Royal Pavilion?

Last weekend I was out walking in the Cotswolds and almost literally stumbled across Sezincote house and gardens. I had no idea that a house like this existed in the Gloucestershire countryside and thought at first that I was seeing things.

Colonel John Cockerell, a grandson of the nephew of Samuel Pepys, bought the Sezincote estate in 1795 when he returned from Bengal. He had been in the service of the East India Company and on his death in 1798 left the estate to his brother Charles. Charles Cockerell, created a baronet in 1809 and MP for Evesham, employed another brother, the magnificently named Samuel Pepys Cockerell to design him a house on the estate in the Indian manner. SP Cockerell was an architect of some standing, Surveyor to the East India Company and he worked on the design for Sezincote with the artist Thomas Daniell, who had spent ten years in India making aquatints, watercolours and oils of Indian buildings and landscapes. Daniell had an unparallelled knowledge of Indian architecture and at Sezincote he and Cockerell designed a house that on the outside at least was a mixture of Hindu and Islamic detail. The style was reminiscent of the reign of Akbar, the Mogul Emperor who ruled from 1556 to 1605. Akbar deliberately mixed the Hindu and Islamic elements in architecture in an effort at cultural integration. Thus the pillars, the horizontal beams and the many depctions of the Lotus at Sezincote are inspired by Hindu design whilst the chattris (small minarets) and other elements are Islamic. The dome, a characteristic of Muslim architecture representing heart and heaven and a symbol of peace and tranquility, shows strong Persian influence.

Sezincote's charming and interesting architectural fusion is apparently not reflected inside the house, which is classical, or in the garden, which is decidely English. Although the house was designed and built for an eighteenth century generation who loved and respected Indian culture, by the time that it was completed in 1812, British attitudes towards India were changing. Nabobs such as the Cockerells were often looked down upon and were suspected of decadence. Some nineteenth century visitors to Sezincote described it as "grotesque."

Sezincote is, however, claimed to be the inspiration for the Prince Regent's Royal Pavilion at Brighton, though when I was reading about the house I could not find any information on how this happened. It is said that the Prince Regent chose an Indian style for its picturesque qualities and The Royal Pavilion is decorated in the chinoiserie style inside, of course, which is very different from both the Indian inspiration and the classical interior of Sezincote.

Sezincote opens to visitors in May and I shall definitely go back for a wander around the house and gardens and to marvel at this architectural jewel sitting in the Gloucestershire countryside!

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Anonymous Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Lucky you, Nicola. I've always wanted to visit Sezincote, ever since I read about it in James Morris's 'Heaven's Command', the first volume of his brilliant trilogy, 'Pax Britannica' on the rise and fall of the British Empire. The book's dust cover is a water-colour by John Piper of the house. It looks amazing.

Morris describes it as 'a pleasure palace' and adds, 'It is like a nabob itself, flaunting its gaudy splendours among the horse-squires and wool merchants who stayed at home.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Nicola Cornick said...

We could arrange a Historical Romance UK outing, Elizabeth, once the house opens! It looks stunning from the outside. I can understand the comparison to a nabob!

3:36 PM  
Blogger Devaki said...

It is fascinating to read about Sezincote. We have so many buildings in India that have been designed on Gothic or Palladian lines. There is the Marble Palace in Kolkata (Palladian) and Chhatrapati Shivaji (formerly Victoria) Terminus in Mumbai (Gothic). The only problem in accepting eclecticism is the lack of coherence between form and function.

4:55 PM  
Blogger Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you, Devaki. I've just been to take a look at images of the Marble Palace and Chhatrapati Shivaji. I rather like eclecticism in architecture but I can see that there might also be some incongruence between form and setting. Does this matter, I wonder?

5:56 PM  
Blogger Heather Snow said...

How amazing, to be able to just stumble across something so lovely.

I need to move to the UK...

Thanks for sharing!

1:12 AM  
Blogger Nicola Cornick said...

Thanks, Heather! Yes, one of the things I love about the UK is that you can be out walking and come across the most amazing historical buildings. I've discovered lots of unusual places that way, tiny little fishing houses and ruins as well as grand country houses.

7:11 AM  
Anonymous Melinda Hammond said...

Haven't visited Sezincote for years, but you have whetted my appetite to go back, Nicola. And I love the idea of an outing!!!

12:59 PM  
Blogger Nicola Cornick said...

I think Historical Romance UK tours would be great, Melinda. All family, friends and guests welcome!

3:30 PM  
Anonymous melinda hammond said...

Spooky - haven't heard of Sezincote for years, then last night, it was featured in Jeremy Paxman's series "The Victorians" on TV ("Yesterday", what used to be UK History channel).

4:32 PM  
Blogger Nicola Cornick said...

Oh I wish I had seen that programme, Melinda!

4:53 PM  
Blogger Jan Jones said...

Outing?? I'll come!

11:42 PM  
Blogger Nicola Cornick said...

I'm going to check out a few dates, Jan, and then I will ask around if anyone is free to come over!

7:34 PM  

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